Monday, March 13, 2006

We Were Cowards Once, and Weak

Picture by Ron Haviv
As part of an article on the problems of prosecuting war criminals, the excellent Max Hastings has the decency to admit he was wrong about Britain’s cowardly response to genocide in the Balkans in the 1990s:

Those of us who opposed military involvement in early-1990s Yugoslavia were probably wrong. The fact that it was difficult to do something should not have become an excuse for doing nothing.

I’m very pleased about this because it gives me another opportunity to type the most beautiful phrase in the English language:

I told you so.

But to be fair, Max is being a little harsh on himself. It was stinking bad luck for the former Yugoslavia that Britain and France, the only two European powers capable of effective military intervention, both suffered a crisis of leadership in the early 1990s.

In Britain, Prime Minister John Major was leading a divided, discredited, and ineffective government, with a shrinking majority in the House of Commons. All these factors lead the PM to shy away from controversial decisions, if we assume that the prevention of genocide is controversial.

None the less, nice guy John made the decision to do nothing, and when public opinion and the news coverage of the massacres and “ethnic cleansing” got intolerable, the policy changed to doing as little as possible.

This policy was fully endorsed by foreign secretary Douglas Hurd, a liberal sadist. In his article, Max reveals that dear Douglas (christened by the Americans “Douglas Turd” for his vacillating windy indecision) now has doubts about his policy of leaving the Serbs alone to massacre their opponents:

"I hope that history does not judge that it was easier than it seemed to us at the time, to act in the Balkans."

Well Doug, history’s answer = Yes.

In France, we now know that far from ruling the country, President Francois Mitterrand was mainly occupied with dying of cancer. Never a delegator, the net result of his illness was something close to the feeble British policy, but with a very French bureaucratic twist. On one
infamous occasion, a French commander refused to provide air support to a Dutch unit because the request was written on the wrong form…

It’s to Europe’s lasting shame that effective intervention finally came from the US military lead by an exasperated President Bill Clinton. If ever there was a moment that the European Union project lost its way, not just with us sceptics in Britain but in the European heartland, it was at the sight of a pathetic European leadership having to be led by the Americans to ‘do the right thing.’

Small wonder American foreign policy has drifted towards unilateral action in the last decade…



Blogger David Young said...

Bloody hell! Did I write this?

The unopposed slaughter of muslims in the Balkans is one 'why they hate us' rationale with which I can actually sympathise. I didn't really follow the conflict closely enough at the time, but I recall the horror I felt when I heard Hurd saying that he didn't want to create 'a level killing field'. It was obvious to me that by default this left in place an uneven killing field - something far worse in my book.

Boris Johnson wrote a good essay about this. It appears in Lend me your Ears. The essence of it is that Hurd wanted to hold back support for a European military force as a bargaining chip in the Maastricht negotiations. And agreeing to fight together with the European states in the Balkans would have created de facto the very thing he was trying to hold back. I haven't read the article for a while, so I would suggest that you consult it yourself. I felt pretty sickened by the whole thing.

I'm slightly shocked that you are a pro-interventionist here. When is intervention correct? Milosevic was never 45 minutes away from nuking Britain.


PS: The damage done wasn't just limited to those killed at the time. The conflict caused British muslims to go to the Balkans and while there they met Wahabbist muslim fanatics - a terrible fusion.

PPS: Wasn't it Thatcher who said 'Arm the muslims?'

11:57 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

Thanks for the comments and the info, David.

You asked:

"When is intervention correct?"

In my book it's when a state invades another state.

That's why I supported the British recapture of the Falkland Islands in 1982, the allied recapture of Kuwait in 1991, and wanted a defence of Bosnia and Croatia and Kosovo.

It's also why I opposed the Israeli invasion of the Lebanon in 1982, and continue to oppose the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

You also pointed out, correctly, that:

Milosevic was never 45 minutes away from nuking Britain.

Neither was Saddam Hussein, as anyone who reads newspapers and follows current events in the Middle East could have told you.

Designing and building a credible nuclear weapon is still one of the biggest engineering challenges there is, even assuming you can obtain and refine the basic materials which are errrr a tad bit difficult to get.

In the Middle East, only Israel has nuclear weapons and worryingly isn't a signatory of the 1968 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons treaty [sigh].

A very small number of British Muslims have been influenced by the Wahabi cult.

A very much larger number have watched Israel ignore 65 (!) UN resolutions, and undertake a brutal military occupation of a predominantly Muslim population for the past 39 years.

They can reasonably ask why the free world tolerates such criminal behavour and why this behaviour is actively subsidised/encouraged by the USA to the tune of about 100 billion dollars since 1948. I can't explain it.

You also asked:

"Wasn't it Thatcher who said 'Arm the muslims?'"

She may well have said that, and I recall Micheal Foot making similar statements at the time (!)

3:07 PM  
Blogger Fred Titmus said...

"In my book it's when a state invades another state."

Remind me, when was the State of Palestine invaded?

5:12 PM  
Blogger roGER said...


5:54 PM  
Blogger David Young said...

"When is intervention correct?"

In my book it's when a state invades another state.

But can you make an exception when the people in this 'state' have chosen not to have a state?


8:25 PM  
Blogger Fred Titmus said...


The only state that was invaded in 1948 was, of course, the State of Israel.

But I'm glad that you don't maintain the fashionable fig leaf of pretending that if the arbitrary pre-1967 armistice lines were reinstated all would be broad sunlit uplands. You must be delighted that your "drive the jews into the sea" agenda is now the official policy of the governing militia of the "State" of "Palestine".

9:13 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

Fred, please do not put words in my mouth. I do not, and have never had a "drive the jews into the sea" agenda.

11:54 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

David, the Palestinians desperately want a viable state.

Fred, I forgot to say that a withdrawl to the 1967 armistice lines would be a fine way to end the Israeli Palestinain conflict, which should have been sorted out at least 20 years ago, possibly 50 years ago.

A military occupation and using it to steal land is not a viable path to peace. I think even the old butcher Sharon grasped that in the final years of his life (assuming he won't recover from his coma).

12:01 AM  
Blogger Fred Titmus said...

Well, if you wish to overturn by military means a supposed invasion of a supposed state called Palestine in 1948, (incidentally the avowed position of the PLO, Hamas, and any number of actual governments in the region), you are in fact calling for making the area judenrein (in common with Saudi Arabia, Jordan et al).

1:13 AM  
Blogger roGER said...

I'm not calling for making any area "judenrein."

Your information about Jordan is wrong.

Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty back in 1994.

Your information on the PLO is wrong.

The PLO recognised the state of Israel back in 1988.

One of the reasons I find it so frustrating to argue with you is I'm never sure if:

You don't know the facts.


You deliberately distort or ignore the facts.


You simply don't believe the agreements are worth the paper they are written upon, and therefore must be ignored.

I seriously would like to know, Fred, which one of the above reasons was it, regarding your comments on the PLO and Jordan?

10:21 AM  
Blogger Fred Titmus said...

Jews are not allowed to live in Jordan or become Jordanian citizens. i think 'judenrein' is an appropriate term to use.

Although the PLO voted in principle 1998 to amend its constitution to remove certain paragraphs, it has somehow not found the time to do so in the intervening six years. Perhaps they have a kitchen shelf that needs repairing too.

"Article 2: Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit."

This clause remains in the PLO covenant (doubtless the King of Jordan is thrilled by this one as well).

On the subject of fact distortion,I am still interested in your assertion that Palestine was invaded in 1948. Do you mean to suggest that the foundation of Israel is somehow an invasion, in which case how do you square this with your apparent reverence for UN resolutions?

As to the worth of signed agreements, the ones Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan are of value, with the proviso that it would be unwise to regard the regime in either Egypt or Jordan as inherently stable, and a successor regime is unlikely to uphold the treaties (in the same way that signing a peace treaty with the Shah in 1977 would have been).

As to agreements with the PLO, I don't believe they are worth a damn.

12:25 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

I'm feeling lazy on this Sunday evening, so I'll let David Ben Gurion speak for me:

"we have taken their country . . . We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?"

In converstion with Nahum Goldmann, in 1956; as quoted in The Jewish Paradox: A personal memoir (1978) by Nahum Goldmann, the president of the World Jewish Congress.

9:40 PM  

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